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Big names, big fights: Boxing set to heat up again to close out summer

It’s not any secret that boxing’s had a lean couple of months in terms of big fights. After Haney vs Lomachenko on May 20, things have been busy but relatively quiet, with the sport’s big names jockeying to line up big fights — or not.

We’re getting some coming on a strong run for the next two months. Some (Fury vs Usyk) won’t be happening.

Here’s a look at what we’ve got on the docket to close out the rest of the summer.

July 25: Stephen Fulton Jr vs Naoya Inoue

We’re getting things rolling hot this week, starting on Tuesday in Tokyo, as Fulton (21-0, 8 KO) faces Inoue (24-0, 21 KO) in a fight that was meant to happen in the spring, got postponed, and is now set to go.

Inoue, 30, has been one of boxing’s most exciting and compelling fighters for years now. Fulton, 29, hasn’t achieved near that notoriety, but he’s won and holds two titles in the 122 lb division, and he’s a hell of a good fighter, as equipped as anyone has been in years to maybe really challenge Inoue.

Fight Grade: A+. The best guy at 122 lbs demanded his next fight be a trip to Japan, crossing normal promotional and broadcast lines, to face “The Monster,” the man who cleaned out 118 in spectacular fashion and is a three-division champion and pound-for-pound star. Every jump in weight for even the best fighters begs the question, “Will they be the same?” Well, we’re going to find out with Inoue against the best possible opponent immediately. Can’t ask for more.

July 29: Errol Spence Jr vs Terence Crawford

And coming next weekend is the long-, long-, long-awaited undisputed clash at 147 lbs between Spence (28-0, 22 KO) and Crawford (39-0, 30 KO) at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Spence, 33, will be defending his WBC, WBA, and IBF titles, and Crawford, 35, will put his WBO belt on the line. The winner will have the right to call himself the clear best welterweight of the post-Mayweather era in boxing.

There’s not a lot more needs to be said. The best against the best. The two best and most accomplished fighters in the division. All the marbles and all that.

Fight Grade: A+. Neither of them have looked like they’re fading, and this is not akin to Mayweather-Pacquiao happening in 2015 when both were past their best days and a few years beyond the fight’s in-ring “best by” date. Boxing has enough lame fights, there’s no joy to be had in not just getting excited about this one.

Aug. 5: Jake Paul vs Nate Diaz

Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images

The Jake Paul Carnival has made its way back to DAZN, where he’ll have his first DAZN PPV after a run with Triller, a run with Showtime, and a one-off with ESPN+ for the Tommy Fury fight in February, where Jake (6-1, 4 KO) took his first loss in a pro boxing ring.

The 26-year-old Paul’s visions of becoming a legit boxing champion seem more hopeless than ever, quite frankly, and we’re now back to him fighting MMA dudes with no legit boxing experience after he fought a “real boxer” and lost. The 38-year-old Diaz has lost three of his last five in MMA, and is probably still best known for upsetting Conor McGregor back in 2016, before losing the rematch five months later.

Fight Grade: C. I maintain a curiosity for this just as a fight, just as a way of watching two guys trade punches, and Diaz is a true character. But realistically, Paul has gotten about as good as he’s going to get, it seems; he’s been about exactly this good for two years now, and he’s looked tentative a lot of the time for four straight fights. The fights haven’t even really been exciting, wild nonsense, because he is better than wild nonsense, but not truly “good pro boxer” good. So the novelty has worn off in almost every way. (Gee golly, I wonder if Paul will propose a winner-take-all bet that absolutely nobody is ever going to actually do even if they “agree to it”?)

Aug. 12: Anthony Joshua vs Dillian Whyte 2

Anthony Joshua said he wanted a big fight. This is kinda big, in that it will sell tickets just fine in the UK and probably do decent enough on DAZN PPV there. It will not be DAZN PPV in the U.S., thankfully. That would feel pretty desperate.

Joshua (25-3, 22 KO) is still one of the biggest names in the division and the sport overall, and Whyte (29-3, 19 KO) was kind of his first truly “big” opponent, as the two built up to a nice grudge match in late 2015. Both are coming off of wins over Jermaine Franklin; Whyte won a majority decision over the American last November, then Joshua beat him on April 1 in a performance that earned mixed reviews under new trainer Derrick James.

You have to wonder how much attention AJ is getting from James, who is also preparing the aforementioned Spence and Jermell Charlo for pretty big fights, while also welcoming Ryan Garcia to the gym.

Fight Grade: B-. I don’t hate it. I think there will still be some spark between the two on a “grudge” level, but outside of one big shot — which is possible! — I just think the days where Whyte might have beaten Joshua have come and gone. But I have been wrong before. And realistically, there just doesn’t seem to have been a bigger or better fight for AJ, and keeping him active is important.

Aug. 12: Emanuel Navarrete vs Oscar Valdez

Emanuel Navarrete vs Liam Wilson - Fight Night

Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

A minor sleeper at the moment, Navarrete (37-1, 31 KO) and Valdez (31-1, 23 KO) were supposed to fight on Feb. 3 for the vacant WBO title at 130, with Navarrete moving up in weight.

Instead, Valdez got hurt, Liam Wilson stepped in, and Navarrete found himself in an absolute war with the Aussie underdog, getting the stoppage and the belt in round nine. As mentioned before with Inoue, you always have to wonder when a guy moves up in weight. Wilson gave Navarrete a tougher fight than almost anyone imagined; Valdez is far more highly-regarded than Wilson, a former champ at 126 and 130 himself.

Fight Grade: A-. Style-wise, it should be a cracker. Valdez strongly prefers to box first when he can, but Navarrete’s awkward style and rhythms may force the firefight, and if Valdez saw what we think he did in February, he might even prefer the firefight. Navarrete can be hit and he can be hurt. This is just a pure, simple and plain good matchup.

Aug. 19: Artur Beterbiev vs Callum Smith

He’s back.

Beterbiev (19-0, 19 KO) keeps marching on, though signs of age have emerged. They just haven’t made enough of a difference for him to lose a fight or even just not stop someone yet. In January, he got a really good fight from a very game Anthony Yarde, but he broke Yarde down and put him away in eight. And that took an incredibly tough effort from Yarde.

At 38, time and some injury issues in his career should truly catch up. Smith (29-1, 21 KO) is a former titleholder at 168 and a big, tall lad at 6’3”. But none of that height mattered against Canelo Alvarez, who sort of fought him the way you imagine Beterbiev might, and Beterbiev is bigger and stronger than Canelo, and no less skilled about his approach.

Fight Grade: B+. Aside from Father Time, Callum Smith is simply going to have to have the best fight of his life. But maybe he will. Beterbiev is so punishingly exciting to watch that I don’t think I could go lower than a B+ against any credible opponent, and Smith is credible with some advantages on paper. Paper doesn’t march through all your punches and keep hammering you, though.

Aug. 26: Oleksandr Usyk vs Daniel Dubois

Without the undisputed fight against Tyson Fury, three-belt man Usyk (20-0, 13 KO) either had to ditch some straps or start fighting his mandatories. Dubois (19-1, 18 KO) is first in line, by virtue of holding the bogus WBA “world” belt, which he at least did thankfully lift from Trevor Bryan, ending that part of a long charade.

Dubois is legit and can absolutely crack, but he’ll be a massive underdog here, of course. The 25-year-old at least does have real ambition, he’s more than just hype and a record. He’s in the sport to be someone.

Fight Grade: B-. I can’t be too mad at it; again, it is what it is, this had to happen, just like if Usyk wins, Filip Hrgovic and the Zhang-Joyce 2 winner are going to be waiting their turns, too, at least if a Fury fight still can’t be made. Or Usyk can give up a belt or two, but the belts are a big part of his bargaining power. Personally I struggle to see how a sort of Anthony Joshua Lite fighter does what Anthony Joshua Heavy couldn’t with Usyk, but maybe Usyk will be distracted or bored. Or maybe he just gets hit with a monster shot.

Sept. 2: Liam Smith vs Chris Eubank Jr 2

Back in January, Smith (33-3-1, 20 KO) scored probably the biggest win of his career, and in the immediate moments, those of us who picked Eubank (32-3, 23 KO) kicked ourselves.

How didn’t we see this coming? Smith’s just a better boxer.

And then you could see that what really hurt Eubank, down twice and stopped in the fourth, was an elbow, not a punch. So what had we really seen? An errant elbow. And the questions remain!

Fight Grade: C+. In all honesty, it wasn’t that great a fight to do the first time around, and it’s not now. My reasoning here is that Eubank just isn’t that good, the results have never fully matched the name value and promotional pushes. But it has to happen, and middleweight is so bad that this is about the best fight you’re gonna get from the division any time soon, it seems.

Sept. 23: Zhilei Zhang vs Joe Joyce 2

Joe Joyce v Zhilei Zhang and Mikaela Mayer v Christina Linardatou - Copper Box Arena

Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images

We’ll hopefully get something big announced for Sept. 9 or 16 soon, but at the moment, this is the best thing set after Sept. 2. And it’s a good one.

In April, the 40-year-old Zhang (25-1-1, 20 KO) destroyed the eye of Joyce (15-1, 14 KO) and earned a sixth round stoppage. It was the battle of big, thudding heavyweights we all expected, it’s just that one of them took the eye of the other apart.

But many felt Joyce, 37, really was coming alive, and was perhaps going to once again prove he truly is a “Juggernaut” of a fighter.

Fight Grade: B+. Like Joshua-Whyte 2 or Usyk-Dubois, part of this is just, you know, what else are these guys gonna do right now? Neither could get Usyk next, and Fury’s farting around with Francis Ngannou for a lot of farting money. It does legit feel like unfinished business, too, plus with promoter Frank Warren having the options on Zhang, this is just the natural fight to make, as Warren tries to get his guy Joyce even with “The Big Bang.”

Sept. 30: Canelo Alvarez vs Jermell Charlo

OK, summer technically ends on Saturday, Sept. 23, but let’s extend it a week so we’re not forgetting this one to close out September.

Canelo was supposedly going to fight Jermall Charlo, who hasn’t fought in over two years, with Jermall moving up from 160 as Canelo inked a three-fight deal with PBC. Instead, it’s Jermell, who hasn’t fought in over a year, is undisputed champ at 154, and will be moving up two divisions.

There are aspects of this that stink, but with Canelo not exactly looking spectacular in his last two fights — we won’t even consider the Bivol loss at 175 for this — there’s some intrigue here.

Fight Grade: A-. Think me a sucker, think whatever, but I am interested in this. Very much so. I still think it should have been David Benavidez, and Canelo’s saying Benavidez “talks too much” is, pardon my French, some horseshit. The guy did all he could, he’s the clear top contender at 168, and he’s been respectful about wanting to fight Canelo. I think Canelo just doesn’t want to be told who he should fight; he was this way about Golovkin years ago, too. Anyway, I think Jermell can handle the weight jump fine and we’re not seeing a peak Canelo anymore, he’s vulnerable and has developed a habit of fading late in fights. Jermell’s dangerous here, and I think we’ll have some good atmosphere.

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